Hospitality, Approved Of God

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 24 Jan 2013


5 Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers; 6 Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well:  7 Because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles” (3 John 5-7).

The third inspired epistle of John is really a personal letter to a man named Gaius. Excluding the writer, this letter revolves around three persons: Gaius, Diotrephes and Demitrius.

We don’t know which Gaius this is. The name Gaius appears in 4 other occasions in the New Testament (Acts 19:29; Acts 20:4; Rom 16:23; and 1 Cor 1:14), but we don’t even know if any of these Gaius’es are the same person. Gaius was a very common name in those days.

So we don’t know where John’s Gaius lived. And we don’t know what was the situation in the church he was in.

But it is very likely, that Gaius was either converted through John’s ministry, or was a member of the church that John ministered in. John, we should note, acknowledges him as his child in the faith (v. 4).

It is also a likely scenario that where Gaius was living, the church was not yet formally established unlike in the case of the elect lady of 2nd John.

There was, it appears, a gathering of believers. But they had not yet formally ordained elders and deacons.  This may explain why John seems to be writing privately to Gaius, and why he complained to him about Diotrephes, who seems to be exercising some leadership influences in the church. In all probability, Diotrephes was aspiring to be an elder in the church; whereas Gaius was the man that John was considering to ordain into office when he visits them.

Demetrius, on the other hand, was probably the leader of the team which carried John’s letter to Gaius. He is probably also the minister or ministerial student send by the John to minister, at least temporarily, in the church that Gaius was in.

I confess that most of these are speculations. But I think we are not too far off, and I can’t think of a better background, that would require the apostle John to write the way that he did in this letter.

In any case, we are in a series of messages on great and precious promises of God in the Bible.

Does this letter contain any promises? Well, there are no direct promises. However, there is one rather tangential promissory statement in verse 6. This is made by the apostle John as part of his commendation of Gaius for his hospitality towards the saints who were passing by.

Let’s look at what John has to say by considering the context from verses 5-7. Here we see three things.

First of all, we see that…

1. Gaius was Faithful
in Hospitality

John says: “Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers” (v. 5).

Take note that John is actually commending Gaius for hospitality towards the Christian travellers or missionaries passing through his hometown. Note that John is not commending Gaius for hospitality to brethren and strangers, but rather to brethren who were unknown to him.

One of the things which the Scripture highlights as a mark of a godly man, is his willingness to entertain strangers. The writer of Hebrews says:

“Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:1-2).

While it may be foolish to entertain every stranger who comes to your door, it is a Christian duty and privilege to show hospitality to those who come from afar.

This is especially so if they are believers or visiting ministers.

Even so, it must have been quite exhausting to provide hospitality for every believer passing through town. But Gaius, and no doubt his family, did all things cheerfully. He was faithful in what he did. That is to say, he was consistent and trustworthy. No one passing through his hometown ever lacked a place to rest and to refresh themselves. Indeed, his reputation has spread far and wide as we see in verse 6. Apparently, no one had been disappointed by their experience.

This is why John commends him for his faithful hospitality. Had Gaius been sporadic, off and on, or had he been partial and showed hospitality only to those who are perceived to be rich or important persons, then his reputation would not have been so positive. Then it is unlikely that John would have commended him for his faithful hospitality. Then  would his name not have been commended before the church by those who have been blessed by his hospitality.

For we see secondly, how…

2. Gaius was widely commended
for his Charity

6 Which [i.e., those who have enjoyed your hospitality] have borne witness of thy charity before the church.

Gaius must have found joy showing hospitality to the brethren passing through. We know this because the Scripture teaches us that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

But not only did he find joy from the act of doing well, he also had the privilege of hearing words of appreciation from those who enjoyed his hospitality. No, doubt, it would also have been very satisfying to hear them say “thank you” at the end of their stay. And no doubt, it would have been quite humbling, and yet thrilling to hear John tell him that the brethren who enjoyed his hospitality had borne witness of his charity before the church back home.

The word translated charity is the Greek agape—an unselfish, unconditional, self-sacrificial love. This was a very high commendation. The brethren saw that Gaius was doing all things out of Christ-like love for them. They had no reason to doubt his sincerity. They did not detect any hint of reluctance, hypocrisy or hidden agenda in what he was doing. All they saw was a Christian brother imitating Christ. They experienced his love, so they spoke of his love.

But now, the third thing we see from the text is that…

3. Gaius has the Promise
of God’s Approval

After speaking about how the people commended Gaius for his charity, John adds—

6 …whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well: 7 Because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.

Here’s where we find the tangential promise that I mention earlier. Why do we say it is a tangential promise? Well, in telling Gaius, “thou shalt do well,” John is in a way promising the approval of God.

You see, nothing is truly good but that which God gives his approval. It is true that the phrase “thou shalt do well” (kalw`" poihvsei") may be used in a very loose and general way to speak of something done appropriately. Indeed, it was actually quite a common polite phrase found in ancient Greek letters. It has been liken to our “please.” In other words, John could simply be telling Gaius—“It will be good if you do what I tell you to do” or “please do as I am suggesting.” It is possible that John does not have anything more in mind.

However, we must remember that John is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and everything that God says is important for us. As such, those common words must not be treated as something to simply gloss over.

It’s kind of like a father telling a child—“please tidy up your room.” What does the father mean when he say that? Is he simply requesting the child to tidy up? Can the child say: “My father did not command me to do it. He did not say, ‘tidy up your room, or I will spank you’; so I am just going to ignore his instruction since I don’t feel like packing up at the moment!”

It is obvious that when the father tells the child “please tidy up your room,” he is implying that he would be pleased if he does so, or he would have his approval if he does so. If the child loves his father, he will do it regardless of whether he feels his father is commanding him to do it or not. He will do it upon the implied promise of his father’s approval.

So it must have been for Gaius. John says: “if thou bring [them] forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well…

Note that John is probably not telling Gaius to do more than he is already doing. Rather, he is probably reminding Gaius of the Lord’s approval for what he is doing. Perhaps he is also seeking to remind Gaius gently of what he was likely to do any way, namely to provide for the men who brought the letter to him. As I mentioned Demetrius might be the leader of the team. John is essentially commending them to Gaius’ care. This is why he goes on to explain why he would have the Lord’s approval for taking care of them.…

“Because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellowhelpers [or partners] to the truth” (3 Jn 1:7-8).

When we show hospitality and provide for brethren who are doing God’s work, we become partners with them in their good work.

But more than that, we have a promise of God’s approval for what we do!

Conclusion

Hospitality is hard work and costly. It is inconvenient. It intrudes into our leisure time. It breaks our routine. It sometimes eats into our pockets. But it is God-approved work!

Let us therefore seek to imitate Gaius to go about it faithfully. Let us do so out of gratitude to the Lord. Let us lay down our lives as He laid down His life for us. As He loved us, let us love those He love. Though we may not see any immediate benefit apart from the joy of giving, let us be sure that the Lord is pleased when we do so. The promise that John made to Gaius is, no doubt, a promise of God for us. What kindness we show to Christ’s servants, we are showing to Christ who sent them. Therefore, by the grace of God show, and continue to show hospitality. You can be sure of God’s approval. God has promised. Amen.

—JJ Lim

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